All posts by rowdydog

Alaskan traveller and image creator. Using video, photography, and a robust collection of verbs, I present an Alaskan Way of Life.

The longest 4 block train of his life

So I’m on my way to Elliot Bay Book Store with my camera in hand because that’s what I do with a day to kill in Seattle. I’m at Seattle Center and decide to catch the monorail to Westlake Center to shorten my trip. The train arrives and like a kid I scramble to the front of the train to get next the best view. I sit in the seat next to the driver.
“Hi there! I’ll be your co-pilot today”
“Thanks. I need all the help I can get. ”
“Are sure you know the way?” I ask.
“More or less” he says
The driver has developed a pained expression like he knows what I’m about say. So I let him have it.
“Have you ever gotten speeding ticket on this thing?”
I keep it coming
“The boys back at the shop are wondering how you got lost last week”
“Who is most annoying person you have ever had on a trip besides me”
The train pulls into Westlake but not soon enough for the driver I’m sure.

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Three Doors Down and a Generation Away

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So I’m at the Westlake Center in Seattle outdoors at the hotdog stand(I know I should be eating better than this).
An older man in a suit, obviously in a position of power, walks up with an attractive young girl looking like an intern. She thanks him twice for the hotdog he is ordering for her. It is said a little too politely and  well before the usual rhythm of these things leads to the moment of “who pays?” and the spontaneous  gesture of “‘I got this.” This was a premeditated invitation to lunch.

They talk comfortably about getting ready for a meeting for awhile then he awkwardly  turns the conversation to weekend plans. She quickly fills it up with abundant strenuous young-people activities.  He moves closer to her. Before he can say anything, she offers to wait for the hot dogs so he can go back to the office and get ready for the “meeting”. He doesn’t like that idea. There is an awkward silence. A live street performer is playing music in the background.

She says ”do you recognize this song?”

He says “no”
Intern “It’s Three Doors Down!”
Man in suite “I know where its coming from but I don’t know who it is”
I almost breakout in laughter but I’m able to snort my way out of it.

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On the Road

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So I find I have booked a hotel on Route 66 in Flagstaff. Totally unintentional, but now that I’m here I decide to venture out on my bike and like a “Dharma Bum”, I’m on the road!
My hotel is one of three in a row all of similar design and price. Mine has been remodeled several times but that still can’t cover up the 1960’s design elements of the place – kinda of space-age plastic feel with aero dynamic lines flowing everywhere. I suppose they were pretty excited about landing on the moon back then and rightfully so- it maybe the most significant human achievement of all time.
I wander down the road and pass by a car dealership. A car with its hood open like an alligator is parked facing the road. In the “jaws” there is a sign that claims they are looking to sell cars to “good people with bad credit”. Like a baby deer walking by an alligator pond, a poorly dressed frazzled looking lady is looking at the sign. 
The Alligator will sleep well tonight I think to myself.
Next I see a store selling billiards and saunas. That’s different. Maybe they have done extensive marketing research and discovered a correlation that no one else has yet. I move past Andy’s auto repair, an appliance repair shop, then a mortuary. Next to the Mortuary is a pawn shop. Now there is a correlation that makes sense to me. “You can’t take it with you”, they say!
I pass by a shop selling southwest antiques. There are old west icons for sale including wagon wheels and wooden furniture. Attracted by the items out front designed to draw me in, I do just that. Upon entering I ascertain that I am the only one in the store except for a lady engaging the lady at the register who appears to be the owner.
“Look at the detail in these designs,” she says.
“I know what my customers want and that doesn’t matter to them,” says the lady at the counter.
I walk around the store. Filled with furniture, art work, clothes, memorabilia, it oozes personality. If only they could speak.
“How about this! How about I give it all to you for three hundred! You would really be helping me out.”

I loose track of the conversation but it appears the deal went down. The lady with the detailed items is smiling. Another customer walks in. I move towards the front as the smiling lady walks out. The store owner perceptively makes an evaluation and decision. She turns to the lady who just entered and says “May I help you?”

Experience has taught her that someone pulling up to the store on a bicycle is likely not a big spender. She’s dead on with that evaluation.

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The True Meaning of Alaskan Wilderness

 

“What makes an area worthy of wilderness status?”

 I hear designated wilderness described with terms like inspirational, peaceful, awe inspiring, and reflective. People value wilderness as a place to escape  the pressures of everyday life and come back to it refreshed. So, should we choose our next wilderness area based on these characteristics? I say no.

People go to visit national parks and designated wilderness areas like they visit a zoo.Although you can’t see it like you can in the eyes of a caged tiger in a zoo, the true nature of wilderness is glazed over and lost to the modern day observer. True wilderness is not a scenic pull out on a highway. True wilderness is a harsh, unforgiving adversary that demands respect.

 Wilderness has always dominated our civilization. Humanity feared the wild places. From the earliest time of humans we have pushed back against the wilderness. That struggle has shaped our human existence. We are a social creature because we learned that collaboration worked best to provide protection from the surrounding dangers- dangers that were predominantly from the natural world around us. Cities were built to provide protection for the civilized world from it surroundings, both human and natural. Animals that were not tamed lived in the lands where the wild things are- literally this what wilderness means – it is the land where the untamed beast live. As we grew into nation- states, we set out to explore an unknown world. We discovered new lands and slowly mapped the world. We did this with armies of conquest with  weapons because the unknown was dangerous.

When the United States expanded westward, the West was conquered as though it were an adversary. The wilderness that our ancestors lived in challenged us. It motivated us and created a backdrop by which we discovered ourselves in the struggle to exist. It is only in the last century that the final corners of the world have been touched. We have been to the top of the highest mountain, reached both poles, and we have even left our own planet. Where once there was an unknown world full of awe and mystery,  we now can explore the world with google while sitting in our own living rooms. There may be a price to pay for that and it may get expensive.

Humanity has always been challenged in the struggle with nature. It is in that challenge that revelations are gleaned from wilderness. Wilderness has always been a spiritual testing ground. The search inward often begins with a journey outward, and into, wilderness. Often that journey is formalized by society in a “rite of passage,” a ritual that has as its reward the recognition from your peers of overcoming hardships. Many “Rites of Passage“ are anachronisms from a time when wilderness was feared as an adversary to conquer. The wilderness of our ancestors handed out life and death with much more regularity.Tribal cultures used “rites of passage” to graduate youth into adults. Primitive man often created rites of passage to test boys before they achieved the status of men. Often these rituals involved forays into the wilderness with real danger. These rituals were often done in solitude to isolate the applicants confrontation with wilderness.

Many of the worlds religions have had encounters with nature that are a defining attribute of their message.The most notable rite is the Islamic Hajj from Mecca to Medina. In early times, the force of wilderness was a prominent element of the Hajj and many died attempting it.  Christianity begins with a conflict in the  the world’s first designated wilderness area called the “garden of eden.” Humans are banished from a perfect natural world for a character flaw. Nature has baptismal powers.The Israelites were banished to the “wilderness” for 40 years before they were deemed worthy enough to enter the promised land.  The philosophy of Zen Buddhism is grounded in the relationship with the natural world around us. Siddhartha, distraught with what he sees in the village, is drawn to the purity and solitude of the forest where he finds revelations. He emerges as Buddha and his teachings became the basis of a religion. Chinese Taoist philosophers draw upon the basic elements found in nature. “Yin” is a passive principle exhibited by the wet, dark, and cold. “Yang” is the principle in nature that is dry, light, and heat. Combined they produce all that comes to be. The basis of most Native American spirituality is animism- a belief that the objects of nature possess souls. This spiritual relationship that Native Americans have with the land, has been put forth as an legal argument in front of the United States Supreme Court seeking to protect wilderness under 1st Amendment rights granting freedom of religion.

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 The Alaska Wilderness is special. It is our last chance to preserve an ancient relationship between humans and their environment. Alaska wildernesses are an anachronism to our more familiar relationship with the natural world around us. It is a relationship built on respect and fear of the power of wilderness. In the lower 48, pockets of wilderness are surrounded by civilization. In Alaska, pockets of civilization are surrounded by wilderness. 17 of the Nations largest wilderness areas are in Alaska. Traversing Alaskan wilderness is bit like swimming in water over your head for the first time. When you can no longer “touch the bottom of the pool,” you sense that you have been repositioned  in the pecking order of the natural world. In Alaska it is still possible to find yourself in a place far from any indication of human existence. When there is no trail, no road, or no visible sign of previous human existence, an epiphany challenges one’s evaluation of their place in the world. This is our traditional relationship with nature. It is one where we were equals at best.

Would the wilderness of today’s world have the character to challenge us to reach such spiritual revelations? George Lucas imagined in his Star Wars movies the extremes – a world where entire planets were cities. A place where nature has been completely eradicated. Could we really live in a future like that? In the end Lucas sees the all natural forest world of the Ewoks defeating the evil empire.

Today new discoveries in medicine are being discovered in the rare and new plants of the tropical rainforest.  The destruction of the rainforest could also mean the loss of a undiscovered plant that could cure cancer. Could the loss of the last truly wild places of Alaska also mean the loss of a spiritual testing ground that defines true wilderness? Could we lose a revelation that could have only come from a synthesis with nature that could have guided our society forward? Would we ever know what we lost?

Whether it be the land, or the spiritual landscape, wilderness has the power to carve new destinies and recreate the course of life. Lets value our wilderness area based on its ability to challenge our place in the world. Lets realize that Alaskan wilderness is valuable anachronism that we will need to struggle to preserve.  And lastly realize that our generation has been positioned at a unique time in the history of this planet to make some big decisions. I hope our children’s children will judge us wise in our choices.

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A Sense of Place


A sense of place.  Its what true travelers are willing to take the extra step to find. They are places that are undefinable, but are evident when you  find them. They radiate truth that touches the human soul. They are delicate and fleeting over the passage of time.   Treasure the moment in time you share in the discovery of such places. A collection of these moments make up a lifetime.

This is my philosophy. Its taken me to nearly 40 countries around the world and launched career as professional in the Alaska travel world. I have written two books about Alaska, one about my world travels, and have been published in Alaska Magazine. My photography has also been published and has won awards. I was born and raised in Alaska as my father was as well.

This is the perspective I write from. I hope you find in it a resonating truth, one like the resonating truth that vibrates from a sense of place.

Namaste

Larry Johansen

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